Students at Duke University are learning what it takes to create Videos for Social Change. Under the guidance of Bruce Orenstein, Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Documentary Studies, students in last semester’s Videos for Social Change course produced a 13-minute documentary about one of North Carolina’s most pressing social issues: the School-to-Prison Pipeline. The video traces the devastating impacts of laws, policies, and practices that push young students out of our schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. It is now being used by a coalition of North Carolina organizations to provoke critically important conversations about this social challenge. The full video can be viewed here:

North Carolina’s School to Prison Pipeline from Center for Documentary Studies on Vimeo.

This semester, students in Orenstein’s course are taking part in a brand new Oral History-Video project that will eventually be housed at the Duke Human Rights Archive. Social Activism in North Carolina: An Oral History Project explores the lives and motivations of social activists across North Carolina, and is inspired by countless conversations Bruce and his students have had with advocates during the production of videos during past semesters. Bruce believes that these oral histories will paint a portrait of social advocacy in North Carolina and give future students and researchers the opportunity to learn about the struggles, successes, and challenges that activists have encountered in the past and continue to confront in the present.

Over the past two weeks, following an in-depth look at the history of activist efforts in North Carolina, students have interviewed some of our community’s most inspiring social advocates including,

James Andrews, President, North Carolina Chapter of AFL-CIO
Rukiya Dillahunt, Education, Labor and Peace Activist, NC Peace Action
Anita Earls, Executive Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
Angaza Laughinghouse, President, NC Public Service Workers’ Union
Dani Moore, Director of Immigrant Rights Project, North Carolina Justice Center
Allison Riggs, Staff Attorney, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
Melinda Wiggins, Executive Director, Student Action with Farmworkers
Rev. Mel Williams, Convener, End Poverty Durham

James Andrews

James Andrews

Sitting down to have an intimate conversation about what it means to work in the name of social justice has been an eye-opening experience for Orenstein’s students. Reflecting upon her interview with Rukiya Dillahunt, Nandini Srinivasan (BS Economics, ’14) said, “Conducting an oral history resulted in one of the most honest conversations that I’ve had in the recent past. Mrs. Dillahunt – an active peace activist and education reformer – overwhelmed me with the breadth and depth of her experience, but tempered it with an innate modesty. Mostly, she taught me how much I can learn by simply listening.”

Srinivasan was not alone. When asked to think about her experience interviewing Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Esther Kim (BA Political Science, ’14) stated, “Even she, an extremely experienced civil rights activist, has experienced frustrations in the work she does. Regardless of the difficulties it takes to enact structural change, Anita has shown perseverance and strength as she continues to work for civil rights in the face of strong opposition.”

Anita Earls

Anita Earls

Over the remainder of the Spring 2014 semester, the 15 students participating in Orenstein’s Videos for Social Change course will take inspiration from the conversations they have had about social activism in North Carolina to create short video vignettes. Using archival materials, photographs, and excerpts from their interviews, the videos will tell stories of why project participants have chosen to get involved in advocacy efforts, how they confront pushback, and what keeps them going in the midst of their successes and failures.

In the coming months, check back at the Duke Human Rights Center webpage, to watch full interviews and student videos, and for more general updates from Social Activism in North Carolina: An Oral History Project.

This piece was written by Hanes Motsinger, who is the project coordinator.